SEVENTY years ago today, thousands of British and Allied troops men set off from the south coast of England to invade Nazi-occupied France.

It was a day that would change the course of history. Among those men was tank driver Ted Davidson, of Padiham.

He spoke to reporter Dan Clough about his experience.

 

“YOU couldn’t really tell what was going on it was that noisy and smoky. It was like being in an inferno.”

Ted Davidson, 88, recalls the moment his landing craft arrived at Normandy on June 6, 1944.

“You just did your job when you were in the Scots Guards,” he continues. “They just said ‘just keep going’ so we kept going.”

Ted was just 18 when he was ordered to drive his Churchill tank up Sword beach and head towards the tactically crucial city of Caen in France.

It was a terrifying experience for the young guardsman in his first overseas posting since joining the Scots Guards.

Ted, from Cheshire but by 1939 living with his aunt in Edinburgh, was 14 when Adolf Hitler’s Nazi army invaded Poland, forcing Winston Churchill to declare war on Germany.

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And when he was 17 he enlisted in the Army.

He said: “I was in the Black Watch to start with, which was the Scottish infantry, but as I was only 17 I was too young to go abroad.

“I was basically in a holding unit, which was very boring.

“There was a noticeboard and every morning it said they wanted volunteers who were 5ft 10ins and over.

“I didn’t know what I was volunteering for, but I signed up anyway.”

Ted, now vice-president of the Burnley and Padiham branch of the Royal British Legion, had signed up for the Scots Guards Third Tank Battalion and was posted to Bovington in Dorset where he trained with the Royal Tank Regiment.

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In the run-up to D-Day, he said it was clear an invasion was imminent.

He said: “There was no information about going over as it was all top secret.

“But you could tell something was happening as you could see it building up and there were more and more troops arriving.”

When D-Day arrived, Ted was put aboard one of thousands of special landing craft, along with his tank and his crew.

Ted, of Coronation Avenue, Padiham, said: “It was very rough going across and everybody was seasick.

“The floors of the landing crafts were made of steel and the tanks were chained to the floor but one or two of them broke loose and slid around a bit.

“We thought it was going to be a piece of cake but it clearly wasn’t. I think we got caught with our trousers down a bit.

“And when you saw what was going on you just wondered if you were going to get through it or not.

“I never shook with fright but I was very apprehensive.

“I reconciled myself by thinking I was either going to make it or I wasn’t and that is how I got through the whole of the war.”

When the landing crafts hit the beach and the ramps went down, Ted and his crew were already in the tank ready to go.

He said: “We just drove off the craft and headed up the beach.

“There was still quite a lot of beach fighting when we got there.

“We had to find the right spot as the tanks were more than 50 tonnes.

“Some tanks had one or two problems getting up the beach and some got damaged but it was just a case of getting on with it.

“I could see flashes and gunfire but in a tank you are very limited.

“You have got a view ahead through a small aperture but I was just watching the land in front of me.”

It wasn’t until Ted and his battalion were inland that the true horrors of war caught up with him.

He said: “We got about five or 10 miles inland and we were ambushed by a Panzer anti-tank unit.

“We lost about 12 tanks, each with five men inside.

“When you lose a tank there is so much ammunition and gas in them that you have no chance.

“It was terrible.

“Thankfully my tank crew got through unscathed. We were all very close.”

After Normandy, Ted continued right through Europe, and was one of the first tanks into Holland, ending up on the Baltic coast of Germany.

He stayed on in Germany for two years after the war before returning home and eventually became a policeman in the West Midlands, which is where he met his late wife, Dorothy, who passed away eight years ago.

From there he took a college course in groundsmanship and was offered a job at Burnley Football Club in 1977, spending more than a decade looking after the club’s training ground at Gawthorpe.